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Thursday
Mar112010

Broken Bells: Supergroup of the Year?

Broken Bells

Broken Bells

Columbia

March 9, 2010

Broken Bells is the much talked about collaboration between James Mercer of The Shins and Brian Burton, aka Danger Mouse.  Ever since this project was announced last September, I wondered whether this experiment could be as cool as its billing promised.  The answer is yes. 

Described as “melodic, yet experimental,” Broken Bells delivers creatively arranged songs that utilize the full range of Mercer’s vocals, from his normally dulcet tones on single “The High Road” to a space-age falsetto on “The Ghost Inside.”  Burton, who did pen some of the lyrics, also adds his golden producer’s finger to driving beats and a myriad of keyboard instruments, including a resurrected electric harpsichord. 

It’s easy to hear elements that would be comfortable in both Shins and Gnarls Barkley songs, but Broken Bells pulls in an extremely wide range of influences, sometimes to their detriment.  The arrangements can change on a whim, as if including chord progressions or certain instruments just for their own sake.  In this regard, the album could stand to loosen up a bit.

This project is not just a series of studio tricks, though, as Broken Bells will be taking a full band on tour.  They performed “The High Road” on Letterman on March 9, and will be playing several sets at next week’s SXSW, including NPR’s showcase on March 17. 

The CD is also available in a deluxe limited edition box set, which has a neat feature of playing snippets of extra music when it’s opened up.  The full album will be streamed on NPR for the rest of the week, and Mercer and Burton talked about the album with All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen. 

What do you think of the Broken Bells record?  Could this be the collaboration of the year? 

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